Local Manufacturing Gets Spotlight in San Francisco

Discussion
May 14, 2012

The local movement has—perhaps not so surprisingly—gone extreme in San Francisco. Last week, the city held a second-annual week-long celebration of local manufacturers.

Initiated by the nonprofit SFMade, festivities included dozens of companies giving factory tours and a speakeasy-themed fundraising mixer. New to SFMade Week this year was Saturday’s "Shop SFMade Day," when more than 60 local retailers held "buy local" events with 10 percent of proceeds donated to SFMade. SFMade stickers were put in store windows and a pop-up shop supporting the event opened inside the Banana Republic store in Union Square. An SFMade store at the San Francisco International Airport is in the works for 2013.

Started as a local manufacturers’ organization in 2009, SFMade has grown to 325 members with a combined workforce of 3,500. Members range from traditional manufacturers in operation for more than 100 years to entrepreneurial startups. Products include apparel, ceramics, messenger bags and chocolates.

With funding from city agencies, banks and companies such as Google and Levi Strauss, its annual budget has grown to $500,000. Beyond promoting SF products, SFMade offers advice on commercially zoned spaces, permit processing and business planning, while pointing members to stores that favor locally-made products.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Executive Director Kate Sofis said her organization’s primary goal is to support jobs. She said, "We want to focus on growing the footprint of the companies we have and nudge up their employment base."

In an interview with Fast Company earlier this year, she argued that local manufacturing particularly supports poorer neighborhoods, with 80 percent of local manufacturing jobs in San Francisco held by immigrants. She states that manufacturing consistently offers better wages and more benefits than other occupations for individuals with less traditional skills and education.

Ms. Sofis added, "Local manufacturers understand there’s a certain pride that comes from actually making a product within a defined geographic, social, and historic region. San Francisco plays an integral part of the overall value proposition of these companies, their brand, and their products."

With a heap of media attention, the SFMade model is being explored in other cities across the globe, including nascent efforts getting underway in New York City and Chicago.

Discussion Questions: What’s the likelihood that locally-made movements will become more prevalent across the U.S. in the years ahead? What do you think of the SFMade approach?

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9 Comments on "Local Manufacturing Gets Spotlight in San Francisco"


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Ian Percy
Guest
10 years 14 days ago

This whole thing has already caught on and is gradually encompassing everything from food to services to manufactured goods. What is interesting is how insightful ‘non-local’ corporations are supporting the movement as well. Maybe one day we’ll actually believe the hypothesis that it’s the small local businesses that will save our economy.

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 14 days ago

On the one hand, this is a natural swing of the cultural pendulum away from mass manufacturing and Asian imports. But it goes deeper than that I believe, and in a very good way. Support of local community has long been a hallmark of rural living, best exhibited in the farmer’s markets and other local bazaars. These are good for the economy and fun for the populace. But more importantly, they connote local pride. A sense of belonging and caring and sharing and being responsible for each other that seems to have been on the wane in this country lately. I like it!

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 14 days ago

There’s a dichotomy in this issue. Consumers want to support locally-made goods but they also seek out low prices that are usually affordable due to cheaper labor outside of the U.S. Nonetheless this movement will likely occur in other cities. People like to be associated with the best side of any issue but for a great many opportunistic enthusiasm for price prevails. Perhaps this attitude is modifying.

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
10 years 14 days ago

Local manufacturing promotions are a good idea from the charity angle, but it will be limited. The first limitation is consumer goods. Manufacturers of industrial or B2B goods offer nothing consumers to see or buy. Second, many cities may have only 1 or 2 manufacturers which limits the consumer interest. This idea will only work for larger cities, and we will see more of it in the future.

Kenneth Leung
Guest
10 years 14 days ago

As I am living in San Francisco and I carry a Rickshaw brand bag that is made here, I think local manufacturing can have an impact as long as there is support by marketing to address the price issue with civic pride or the ability to customize. I can see this happening in cities especially like Detroit with a manufacturing tradition and skills that can be leveraged to create and brand locally made products.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
10 years 14 days ago

As someone who works in SF, I have to say this is emblematic of the city. At a small scale, for high-end, expensive goods, everyone loves this idea. But no one could ever afford to produce something at a value-oriented price point in SF. Plus, as soon as a business reaches scale here, the government and activists start thinking about what to do to drive the business away. I have a feeling that when any of these products really catch on, they’ll need to be made in Utah or Texas, if not Indonesia, to work economically.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 13 days ago

The reality of consumer behavior is that although the loudest voices demand local products, the actual purchase comes to the products with the best value. Price/quality proposition trumps all.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 13 days ago

That these movements will become more common is likely; that they will actually accomplish something is not. There is a certain irony here in that San Francisco rose to prominence as a trading center, and indeed it is still dependent on tourism…wonder how much SF will be getting behind the “vacation local” concept.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
10 years 13 days ago

The restaurant industry and their ‘Farm to Table’ initiatives have been successful for years. Buying product that is sourced locally is an integral part of sustainable living/green initiatives.

My panels on marketing to Millennials always include some mention from the panel or audience that this generation desires to buy local.

Kudos to San Francisco for this innovative program. It will become de rigueur for many more communities because it builds community, team, pride and revenue.

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